When it rains at Elland Road it doesn’t just rain, it absolutely siles it down. Be the rain literal, and watery, or figurative, and bad news or crazy decisions, then Leeds has it in spades. The latest ‘rain’ is the deluge caused by owner Massimo Cellino’s decision to ban Sky Sports camera crews in a dispute over televised fixtures, as reported in many sources.
The Leeds United owner has ‘previous’ in this area in his protracted battle of wills with Sky. Earlier this season, madcap Massimo had one of his famed knee-jerk reactions and limited Leeds away travel to only 2,000 tickets (source needed). This limitation was quickly rescinded when Cellino was faced with a shield-wall of irate Leeds United fans. It was an odd decision given the large away support that the Whites take to every game on their travels. Justifying the knocked-back proposal, Cellino told LUTV, “Some clubs are on television 20 times, some two times, and that is not fair,” he told LUTV. Let’s do the fair thing for our association of 24 clubs, with four games each. We understand that this means a number of fans will now be unable to attend certain away games, but this is the sacrifice needed to make the Football League take notice – we have to vote with our feet,”
The reaction was swift and merciless with social media awash with bitter and angry opinions. The Leeds United Supporters’ Trust (LUST) instantly called for a reconsideration from Cellino of the ticket limitation. Calling for him to reconsider his position, LUST stated, “We fail to see how limiting our allocation at away games assists this. If anything, a large away following making the point live on TV would be 100 times more effective than restricting numbers.” After an engagement of brinksmanship, Cellino backed down in his battle against Sky Sports and removed the ‘cap’ of 2,000 tickets, the minimum the Football League say a club must offer.
Cellino’s argument, according to the above-linked Yorkshire Post article, was that the rearrangements of Leeds games to suit Sky Sports scheduling was “costing the club money in lost commercial revenue”, no doubt a similar cut-and-thrust behind his recent actions against Sky.
However, the recent refusal to allow Sky Sports technicians access to the ground yesterday in order to set up for tonight’s televised game against Derby County doesn’t only involve Cellino vs Sky, it also drags in Sky’s tag-team partner in the Football League. You see, Sky are a ‘broadcasting partner’ of the Football League and the Football League entered into the “commercial contract with Sky “empowered” by the fact of what they “considered to be in the best interests of The League and the Clubs” (Football League Section 7 ‘Broadcsting and Sponsorship’ 75.2). Later on in this subsection (75.2), the Football League state that, “Any contract agreement so entered into by The League shall be binding upon Clubs.”
Seems that ol’ Massimo has put himself across a mighty big barrel with his decisio to ban Sky cameras and their crew from Elland Road; the terms “…shall be binding upon Clubs” being pretty unequivocal and with no ‘wriggle room’. It is this that has caused various sources, including Sky Sports, to write that Leeds could face sanctions over the Cellino-proposed ban on Sky Sports cameras from Elland Road. Sky Sports say that the club ‘could’ face punishment from the Football League over what is essentially a breach of contract; of that there are no two ways about it. In the Sky Sports article (above), the Football League confirm this saying, “Clubs are required to provide access to the League’s broadcasting partners for the purpose of setting up and filming. Failure to do so will lead to a club being charged with misconduct with the matter being referred to an independent Football Disciplinary Commission (FDC). The FDC has a full range of sanctions at its disposal.” Gloomy outlook that, I am not sure I like the phrase “full range of sanctions,” and I am pretty sure a lot of fellow Leeds fans will agree with me. That’s the Football League’s equivalent of a parent saying, “just wait until you get home, we’ll talk about it then;” both are veiled threats and threats full of menace.
The thing is, is Massimo as blinkered in what he is doing, as he has been proven to be in his ‘boats-in-crates’ and ‘cars-in-boxes’, or is this another case of ‘bravado brinksmanship’? Either way, the phrases “full range of sanctions” should be ringing loud and proud in his ears as he made his decision and put his foot down. The sanctions that can be applied, once the Football League refer the situation to an independent Football Disciplinary Commision (four people: a qualified solicitor or barrister or a ‘member/fellow’ of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, two selected by the Football League and one by Leeds United – Section 8 ‘Offences, Inquiries, Commissions, Disputes and Appeals’: subsection 84.3.1). That’s not the worrying bit for Leeds United and their fans though, the worrying bit comes in Section 86 Decisions where it says in subsection 86.1 that the “Disciplinary Commission may at any time make a decision, and may make more than one decision at different times on different aspects of the matters to be determined;” so, essentially, Leeds United could be on the end of multiple punishments if different aspects of the case are nit-picked on.
Here are some of the punishments a FDC can administer:
- 86.2.1 – order a party to do or refrain from doing anything
- 86.2.4 – issue a reprimand or warning as to the future conduct of a party
- 86.2.7 – order a deduction of points
- 86.2.8 – impose a financial penalty payable to The League
- 86.2.12 – order any other sanction as the Disciplinary Commision may think fit
So basically, whilst many Leeds United fans may have sympathy with Ol’ Massimo, the glut of televised Leeds fixtures on Sky and are seeing the ‘knight in shining armour’ glow as il capo Cellino stands up to Sky – I simply ask one question of our owner.
Massimo, what’s more important? Is it money, points or the fans?